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Consumer confidence grows, slowly

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British shoppers are slowly regaining consumer confidence, and say they’re more likely to buy in the months ahead, according to the findings of a new survey. The PayPal Online Retail Report 2010 found that 10% of those questioned expected to spend more in the next six months, up from just 5% at this time last year.

Some 14% said they no longer expected to cut back spending this year and 16% said they would start to buy better quality goods in the months to come.

The study, researched for PayPal by Experian and the Future Foundation, found those questioned divided into two distinct groups. They were young, child-free ‘creeping optimists’ and ‘cautious’ families and retired people.

Those ‘creeping optimists’ are reflected in the 30% of 18-34-year-olds who said they treated themselves more than they did six months ago – compared to only 10% of over-65s, from the ‘cautious’ group.

A fifth of respondents – extrapolated by the researchers to 10.2m of UK adults – said they now shopped online at least once a week. They point to 1.6m regular weekly online shoppers who have just gained the habit in the last year, while 19.5m shop online at least once a month. That’s equivalent to a rise of 4.5m since 2009.

Carl Scheible, managing director of PayPal UK, said: “A sense of creeping optimism is growing amongst UK shoppers, which can only boost Britain’s fragile economic recovery.”

But, he added, in uncertain times shoppers would continue to look online for bargains. “We may see continued growth in online spending on clothes and essentials like groceries during 2010,” he said. He also pointed to “an explosion” in sales of smartphones as an indication of the direction of future online shopping.

The report came as research from IMRG and eDigital Research suggests that people are increasingly shopping online not only because it’s convenient but also because it’s seen as a more environmentally-friendly way to shop. Its research found 36% of UK respondents said they preferred to shop online. The biggest reasons were the reduction in pollution (74.6%) and the ability to research products in minutes (83%).

Our view: The message from this study is that shoppers are getting more confident and looking to spend more on goods, albeit slowly, and are increasingly likely to spend online. The fastest move towards spending is in the 18-34 group. But while optimism and willingness to spend is a driving force in economic growth, I’m evidently part of that cautious group since I think it could well prove a little too early to call the recovery. Things will certainly become clearer after the result of the general election is known.

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